Repentance in secular usage refers to either a change in behavior or to a feeling of regret. Thus when a person does something they think was wrong and then feels guilty (or experiences shame) they think that they are repentant.
In biblical usage though repentance refers to a change of heart and mind that brings a change in behavior. Contrition is the term used in the bible to refer to sorrow for sin. In fact, contrition leads to repentance.* Many times a person will do wrong, feel bad and try to change, yet continue in the same sin pattern with no improvement in their moral life. One reason for this is that the person never took the step from contrition to repentance.
Repentance is an active, violent, serious, focused and practical change in heart and mind. Consider this: Any sin, internal or behavioral must be repented of. I have to stop sinning in order to have peace with God. As Jesus said in the gospel of John, “if you obey my commandments I will love you and manifest myself to you”. Peace. Joy. Communion. Confidence. Abiding. Healing. None of these states can be fully realized as long as we continue in deliberate, unrepentant sinful behavior or thoughts. Although repentance is a change of mind it is also a change of heart. It is more than will power, and requires help from God. A person can’t repent without God’s help. We don’t repent in order to please God and get His help. We find God first, we come to faith and receive grace, before we can even have the option of repentance. So what if you find myself with a stronghold; what if you find a besetting sin that you can’t stop doing? You do lots of things. First, you admit it. To yourself and to God. Like an alcoholic at an AA meeting, you identify yourself as a Christian with a need. You go to God in humility and brokenness; drawing near to Him so He will draw near to you. Then, we need to get tough on ourselves. “There is no try, only do” has a lot of truth in it. What else does it mean to say that “sin shall not have dominion over you” other than that we can master it? It is part of the plan. To get tough on sin involves a variety of life style changes. For example, we “avoid the occasions of sin”. That means that you must take control of your life and avoid those settings that lead towards your weakness. You don’t expose yourself to temptation. You avoid it, even if this means you can’t do things that other people can do. They have their own stronghold and their own limitations. Another concept is the fasted lifestyle. That is, we become people of self control, not of self indulgence. Actual fasting from food in itself is an excellent way to “get the victory” over a sin. Another related method that God has given us is accountability. That is, I select a pastor or a mentor and I let them get to know me and my stronghold. Then when I sin or am struggling I tell them about it. Have you ever noticed how much more difficult it is to confess a sin to a human than to God? Go to confession. When we take these steps we will find that “we are not debtors to the flesh”. We are free from the law of sin and death. Try it for yourself.
Now, repentance does not automatically bring perfection. There are many other steps in sanctification. To be victorious over sin, Satan and the lower nature requires many elements in place. Steps like deliverance, inner healing, joining community, being missional, serving, worshiping God, prayer, mortification, surrender, perseverance and transformation. Repentance though is an important and necessary step in growth with God.